Saturday, April 4, 2009

Study Watch : The early stool patterns of young children with autistic spectrum disorder

There is an interesting study that was appeared online in Archives of disease in childhood called

The early stool patterns of young children with autistic spectrum disorder

In this study the authors looked at the stool patterns of a group of 13,971 children who were born in the  between April 1991 and December 1992 in the Avon area of South West England.  The data was obtained from Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).  This data contains, among other things, questionnaires that were filled out by the caregiver that asked a variety of health related questions.

The data that was analyzed in this study had to do with the frequency of stools, consistency and color of stools, history of diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and history of blood in stools from several discrete time points in the child's life (something like 4 weeks, 6 months, 18 months, 30 months, and 42 months although not all data points were available for all times).

In this study group they found 86 children with an autism spectrum diagnosis.  There was complete data available for 76 of the children with autism and 12,905 of the control group.

The analysis of the data lead the authors to conclude that -
During the first 42 months of life ASD children had a stool pattern that was very similar to other children, apart from a slight increase in stool frequency at 30 and 42 months. There were no symptoms to support the hypothesis that ASD children had an enterocolitis.
So this data is meant to contradict reports of GI issues being common in children with autism.  Indeed if you read the introduction of the paper it appears the purpose of the paper is to rebut other studies done that show a relation. 

After reading the study the data appears to be on the inconclusive side for the purpose of drawing any meaningful conclusions.  But then again I am not as familiar with the symptoms of bowel disease nor that familiar with how these things are normally diagnosed.

The number of children with autism was on the smaller side (76) and the data is from parental reports over a long time period so I have to wonder at how accurate it is.  

On the flip side it is does disprove the commonly held belief that all children with autism have bowel issues from a young age.  

So who knows, just food for thought.


  1. My son Coby has cronic constipation since birth. We now have found out he has encopresis. His father has been diagnosed with Porphyria. I am starting to think because of my son's atypical autism that he has porphyria also and not autism. Probably PDD-NOS caused by porphyria. The only other case I have found like this is a 15 year old girl with autism recently diagnosed with Porphyria. Any comments on this?

  2. I don't know that much about encopresis or porphyria. I do believe that there is at least a subgroup of people with autism that do have what appear to be GI issues (regardless of what this study seems to say).

    I know that my daughters had issues with looser stools when they were younger and that they benefited greatly from the GFCF (and Soy Free) diet. It was not the cure for us that others have found it to be but it did greatly increase their eye contact and attention and resolved their bowel issues.

    As to having autism or not the only thing that I can say is that autism is a set of observable behaviors that does not say anything about the cause.

    Just because he may have the label autism or pdd-nos doesn't mean that there isn't something else going on that is "causing" the autism and in some cases if you correct the underlying problem the autism may be "cured".

    Or maybe it won't. Until the cause(s) of autism are found there are more questions than answers.